Northern Michigan is one of the best places to visit in the U.S., and the region boasts an incredibly diverse landscape. From sandy beaches along the shores to charming old towns and stunning arches, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Northern Michigan.
Often when you hear about the Great Lakes region, you think of Chicago, Illinois, or Buffalo, New York. Granted, there are fun things to do in Chicago and Buffalo, but the numerous and unique north Michigan attractions come second to none.
In Northern Michigan, things to do come in varying degrees of thrill, exploration, and relaxation. That means whether you’re a solo traveler or in a group, there’ll be something for you during your vacation in northern Michigan.
Now that you’re convinced, you’re beginning to wonder about what to do in Northern Michigan – stop. This list of popular tourist attractions in Northern Michigan does all the work for you.
You’ll have plenty to do in Northern Michigan. Everything from lazy beach days and casual strolls along the beachfront to thrilling hiking adventures and wine tastings with scenic views is awaiting you.
So without further ado, let’s dive into the best things to do in Northern Michigan.
Traverse City is the main tourist center in up north Michigan. This bustling city is where you’ll find most of the fun things to do in Northern Michigan for all ages.
If you’re a lover of the great outdoors, you’ll love exploring the city’s parks, hiking the scenic trails, and laying out on the sandy beaches.
Wine enthusiasts will love that Traverse City is the “cherry capital of the world” and produces some of the best wines in the country. For a tasting, visit Mari Vineyards and enjoy delicious red and white riesling wines surrounded by captivating views.
The city also hosts plenty of exciting events. If you visit at the right time, you’ll attend the town’s film festival, cherry blossom festival, beer week, and much more.
A Northern Michigan vacation is only complete with a Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore trip. This Lower Peninsula national park hugs Lake Michigan on its northeast shore and encompasses both the North and South Manitou islands.
The park is known as the Mountain of Sand, thanks to the whopping 64 miles of sweeping sand dunes and pristine beaches on offer. These are the most popular Instagrammable spots in Northern Michigan, so remember to take lots of photos.
If you’re up for an adrenaline adventure, you’ll have access to 22 paved miles for hiking, biking, and walking along the Heritage Trial.
The charming town of Charlevoix has some of the best things to see in Northern Michigan. From stunning crystal blue beaches to cute mushroom houses and downtown shopping and eateries, you’ll have plenty to do here.
The mushroom-shaped houses in Charlevoix are a magnetic attraction; they are dotted throughout the town and make for a unique scenery while strolling about. But the city also has other activities to explore, like rock hunting and yachting along Lake Charlevoix.
And if you really want to see something special, visit Castle Farms, Charlevoix’s popular events facility, which often hosts weddings. You’ll also find a World War I Museum full of historical documentation, private collections, and expansive gardens throughout the property.
Perhaps one of Northern Michigan’s unique landscapes is found in the stunning Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. This Upper Peninsula park rests along Lake Superior’s south shore, boasting verdant cliffs and picturesque arches.
The park is known for its unique multicolored cliffs and strange sandstone formations like Miners Castle and Chapel Rock. You’ll also find a place to lounge along Twelvemile Beach; watersports, like sea kayaking, are also quite popular here.
You can explore the hiking trails or extend your time here by staying at a campground nearby. For a more thrilling adventure, take a trip to Munising Falls.
Tucked between the Lower and Upper Peninsula, Mackinac Island comfortably sits on Lake Huron. The state park is the island’s main attraction, with woody trails and minestrone arches covering most of it.
Mackinac Island attracts thousands of tourists for several reasons. The cute town is full of historical flair, colorful shops, restaurants, and of course — fudge!
This Northern Michigan island is known as the “Fudge Capital”, with eateries like Murdick’s Fudge, where you can see the fudge made right before you.
The island has a 19th-century vibe with public transportation options like horse-drawn carriages, while other ways to get around include bikes and walking.
Mackinac Island was a British-held outpost during the Revolutionary War, so head down to the fort for a small history lesson or a cannon firing show.
You’ll never be short of fantastic places to visit in Northern Michigan. Here are a few more activities and attractions you’ll love exploring.
When you hear about the Northern Lights, what comes to mind? Is it a place in Iceland, Norway, or Denmark — how about Northern Michigan? It’s true; you can see the stunning aurora at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park.
This park is one of the most extraordinary places in the U.S., with the darkest skies making way for a dazzling show of flashing lights. Budding night photographers, astronomers, and ark-sky enthusiasts will love stargazing throughout this 550-acre county park.
As the second-largest body of water among the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan is filled to the brim with exciting activities, from water sports like scuba diving in Beaver Island to cruising, jet skiing, paddling, and so much more.
The shores of the Great Lakes are dotted with shipwrecks, and Michigan is not any different. Take a scuba diving tour along the coast and discover the history of regions from its waters. You can also enjoy swimming, fishing, and hiking along the sandy shores.
Old Mission Peninsula Township is a quaint town near Traverse City. This is a good home base in Northern Michigan if you want to avoid the city’s hustle and bustle.
As one of the most popular Lower Peninsula Michigan attractions, Old Mission boasts an array of wineries and lighthouses for you to explore.
Take a tour of the Mission Point Lighthouse and get a sneak peek into the life of turn-of-the-century lighthouse keepers and other residents of that time. You’ll also find several hiking trails and the historic Hessler Log Cabin.
Peninsula Township’s array of wineries and gourmet restaurants makes it difficult to leave without at least visiting one (or two or three). Take a wine tour in Old Mission and taste your way through the region’s gastronomies and delicious wines.
To explore the best Northern Michigan activities at ease, you’ll need to spend a few days in the region. So, here are a few lodging options to consider staying located in some of the best places to visit up north Michigan.
The Earl in Charlevoix is a modern accommodation in the heart of Charlevoix. It’s a short walking distance from Michigan Beach Park and provides luxe amenities like a fitness center, hot tub, and bike rental services.
Guests fall in love with The Earl’s black and dark wood exterior, which is carried on into the interior. You’ll also have access to Wi-Fi to post all your vacation photos and a safety deposit box for your essentials.
Comfortably sitting along golden sands and a private beachfront, Sugar Beach Resort Hotel boasts a stunning light blue interior and exteriors, an indoor heated pool, and a gym.
You’ll have courtyard or beach views depending on the room you book, and a delicious continental breakfast.
The resort is less than two miles from Pirate’s Cove Adventure Park, where you can spend a day golfing, zip lining, and embarking on thrilling water rides.
Located along Mackinaw City’s beachfront, the Hamilton Inn Select Beachfront is a great lodging option for exploring the Northern Michigan islands. You’ll have access to an indoor pool, waterpark, private beach, and fitness center.
The hotel is a 15-minute walk from downtown and the Mackinac Island ferry, and five minutes from the stunning Mackinac Bridge.
The Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse is also within walking distance of the hotel, making it an excellent spot for sightseeing.
Northern Michigan tourist attractions come in different shapes and sizes. From lazing around at the white sandy beaches to exploring charming towns, stargazing, and running down dunes, you have plenty to do and see during your vacation.
Next time you think of embarking on a beach vacation in the U.S., particularly in the Great Lakes region — think Northern Michigan. Think about this list of fun and unique things to do and see and add them to your itinerary.
Essential Info: Logistical Tips and Tricks to Book your Trip
BOOK YOUR FLIGHT
Regarding cheap airfare, I highly recommend using Skyscanner and Expedia. These are two of the sites I use the most due to their exhaustive search on several websites and airlines around the world. They usually bring the cheapest fares.
BOOK YOUR ACCOMMODATION
For hotels, guesthouses, apartments, and other types of accommodation, I highly recommend Booking.com. They are my go-to booking site because they usually have the cheapest fares.
If you’re a registered Booking.com user (“Genius”), you can take advantage of their “Genius discount” to save even more money. I almost always book my accommodation with Booking, and I’ve saved thousands of dollars with their Genius discount.
And of course, as one of the largest travel booking sites in the world, Expedia is another excellent accommodation booking site with a free reward program and discounted member prices.
If you’re looking to save money by staying at a hostel, HostelWorld has the largest inventory of hostels with shared dorms and private rooms. On the other hand, Vrbo offers a wide variety of rooms and apartments at affordable prices.
DON’T FORGET YOUR TRAVEL INSURANCE
Travel insurance with comprehensive coverage will protect you against unexpected events like theft, cancellations, injury, and illness.
I use HeyMondo to insure my trips and recommend them. Their affordable plans offer a 24/7 assistance platform for claims, medical coverage for every traveler, adventure sports and covid-19 coverage, and more. And better yet, GloboTreks readers get 5% off their plan! Get a quote.
Alternatively, if you’re a nomad and travel often or long-term, then SafetyWing could help you save a lot of money on long-term travel insurance.
FIND THE BEST TOURS AT THE BEST PRICES
If you’re looking for the best day tours and cheapest ticket entrances to local attractions, I recommend checking Viator, as they have the largest selection of attractions, passes, and activities all around the world.
BOOK YOUR LOCAL TRANSPORTATION AHEAD OF TIME
Bookaway offers the easiest and most accessible way to book overland transportation with local operators, be it by bus, train, ferry, plane, mini-van, or even private transfers.
If renting a car, then I highly recommend DiscoverCars to get the largest car selection at the best price.
OTHER TRAVEL AND MONEY-SAVING TIPS?
Lastly, check out my resources page for some of the best products and companies to use for your trip. If you like saving money (like I do!), then this page will help.
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